It’s a real thing, you know!

You may have noticed in my last post I describe bursting into tears in front of a painting. Crying is not an unusual activity for me  – I can cry listening to music or watching a film or reading a book. But this is usually because it triggers some sad memory or even a happy one.

My bursting into tears in front of a painting on two separate occasions was an altogether different experience. In both cases I had never seen the painting before. So this was nothing to do with memory. It was the pure force of the art and the instantaneous emotional effect it had on me.

And there is a name for this experience!  Stendhal syndrome : 

‘Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.’*

Isn’t this just the most wonderful description? Clearly my version of the syndrome was positively mild – no hallucinations. But it did not feel mild at the time. My deep emotional response was a recognition of humanity in both paintings and the tears were a release at knowing that I was not alone.

Here are the 2 paintings which have cause Stendhal syndrome in me:

GRAYS IN YELLOW, Rothko, 1960, oil on paper, 1'11'' x 1'6'', Artnet Google Images
GRAYS IN YELLOW, Rothko, 1960, oil on paper, 1’11” x 1’6”, Artnet, Google Images


PAINTING WITH RED PATCH, Kandinsky, 1914, oil on canvas, 4’3”sq, private collection, Athenaeum copyright

Have you ever experienced the Stendhal syndrome?



*According to Wikipedia the syndrome is named after the 19C French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.





  1. Great post, had no idea that overwhelming feeling had a name. I’ve felt mesmerised and close to tears when viewing Marlene Dumas’ My Grandmother. The power of Art!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I get a bit wobbly the first time I see a Le Corbusier building I’ve never visited before… And visiting Chartres for the first time some years ago was a punch to the stomach. Architecture, always architecture with me! (I’ve never seen that Rothko – it is incredibly strong.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s great that it has a name isn’t it! Totally see your point with the Dumas portrait. Such power! Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a world where people can create art that is so forceful that it has a physical effect on us.

    Liked by 1 person

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